Book Reviews

Two Tribes by Fearne Hill

Genre Gay / Bisexual / Contemporary / Historical / Recent (1990s) / Romance / Bittersweet
Reviewed by ParisDude on 24-August-2023

Book Blurb

It’s 1995, and troubled seventeen-year-old Matt Leeson harbours three passions: indie music, wartime history, and the posh boy he sits next to in maths classNot in that order. One of those passions is closely guarded, along with a few other secrets Matt tucks away. Such as his abusive father, the cramped run-down flat he calls home, and the futility of his dreams to escape both.

Twenty-five years later, and plodding Dr Alex Valentine, recently divorced, is looking back on a life less lived. On his failed marriage and the dull bore he’s become, on the empty, lonely weekends stretching ahead. And, in a corner of his mind, wondering what could have been, if only a slender, raven-haired young man hadn’t so abruptly vanished all those years ago.

First love. Teenage love. It should be nothing more than an opening chapter, right? A short prologue even, before the real test of adulthood begins.

But what if that chapter never closes?

Written with a light touch but please be kind to yourselves and observe trigger warnings for: death of a secondary character, depression, domestic abuse (off page), self-harm (off page), attempted suicide (off page)

Book Review

Matt and Alex. Two boys from two tribes, indeed. The first is living out his rather lackluster—some would say miserable—teenage life in a cheap, shoddy council estate house in the poorer outskirts of a small town that’s not advertised as the dream destination for anyone’s UK vacation. Rather than kids, his parents should have had serious counsel for their multiple issues such as alcoholism and violence. Matt has a brother, who, although only figuring in an “also featuring”  capacity in the book, shows every sign of following in his progenitors’ inglorious footsteps. Luckily, Matt can always count on the support of his two best friends, Phil and Brenner. They hang out together, help each other, know all about each other. Except one thing: that Matt prefers boys. That he skilfully hides between a manly swagger and a loveless shagging-only relationship with his emo colleague Debbie.


Then, one day, he lands in detention at school together with his exact opposite: posh Alex Valentine, blond where he’s black-haired, toned and sporty where he’s scrawny, polite and well-educated where Matt has quite a sharp tongue and never shies away from coarse language. An improbable friendship starts that day. Because Matt, for reasons only the most ironic gods of destiny can fathom, is gifted with a keen, alert mind. And Alex, try as he might, never has gotten around all that incomprehensible algebra. That’s how Matt finds himself invited to the Valentines’s house to give him some private lessons. It’s situated only a few blocks away from his own smelly, ramshackle home, but he feels as if discovering a new galaxy. He can feel that there’s enough money to create a cozy haven of peace. The parents are easy-going, open-minded, loving, supportive. The food everyone insists on calling by exotic names turns out mouth-watering.


Matt also introduces his new friend to what he deems “decent music.” As luck would have it, they get tickets to an indie rock band concert. Still riding on the pleasure waves of the gig, Alex suddenly grabs his friend in a doorway… and kisses him. Which leads to all sorts of confused feelings, emotional highs and lows, and ultimately to a sweet first teenage boy love story. But isn’t it doomed from the start? Aren’t their backgrounds, their tribes too different for their love to work?


This was a genuinely bittersweet read where the bitter and the sweet all fell just in the right places and made me go through a maelstrom of emotions. Fearne Hill knows how to create loveable, plausible characters, both with their lot of weaknesses and strengths, doubts and certainties. This author also knows how to spin a good yarn, technically speaking. The book is cut in three parts, where the first and the last make up roughly nine tenths of the story. First, Hill unravels Matt’s and Alex’s teenage years, narrated by the former in the first person. Here I followed step by slow step how they fell in love with each other, how they approached and tamed each other, how they made their story blossom, until—spoiler alert—the unavoidable split-up occurred. I loved this part very much, steeped as it was in 80s pop and rock culture, mostly British. That was my own youth, after all, and the same is true for Matt’s and his friends’ blue-collar background. I was lucky enough, however, to have had and still have an amazing family, light years away from Matt’s. Yet, the difficulties for a youngster to admit and live his homosexuality were the same, and I sometimes thought I reread my own emotions and thoughts from back then.


The third part showed the two men in their forties, how they met again by chance, how they coped with it, and how they finally decided to live out their feelings (here, it was Alex’s first-person voice that carried the plot). These two were linked together by a short middle section (both men are in their late twenties) to avoid too much telling; here, Matt and Alex spoke alternately, still in first person.


I said bittersweet when first speaking of what I think of this novel because it wasn’t your cheap, schmaltzy poor boy-meets-rich boy run-of-the-mill romance. The different backgrounds were depicted with sometimes heartbreaking accuracy and a keen sense for social issues; the boys were treated with empathy and a great sense for their psychology. The character development turned out just as natural. Nothing felt far-stretched, the story flowed along at a nice, pleasant pace, and even though I knew this part couldn’t end well for everyone, the break-up made my eyes well with tears. But I knew Fearne Hill would know how to bring these two guys back together, be it after many more heart-wrenching struggles and battles. Hill didn’t propose a fairy tale evolution for Matt, either, for which I was grateful (even if romantic me wouldn’t have protested—I would have loved to spare him all he had to endure) because it maintained the natural, plausible feel of the story. Even the ending wasn’t the sentimental ride into the sunset on a white horse lesser writers would have conjured. It let me foresee still more struggles and battles for both men to come, mostly with their own demons.


For the record, ‘Two Tribes’ was shortlisted as a 2023 finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards in Gay Romance. It didn’t win, which makes me curious to find out which book did—because for me, everything was there in this story to make it to the very top. I not only highly recommend it to anyone eager to read a good, solid modern love story, but I also recommend to check out the rest of Fearne Hill’s already quite impressive œuvre. I for one sure will.



DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. The reviewer won this book during an Advent Calendar Giveaway on Facebook.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 321 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 05-August-2022
Price $4.99 ebook, $11.99 paperback
Buy Link